Ishaka


I have just finished a week of teaching at the TReND summer school, and am now preparing to leave Ishaka and travel around for a while. The teaching was intense and wonderful – I was so impressed with how bright our students are, and their strong desire to learn. We started at 9am every day, and would end up still in the lab at 8-9pm, in the middle of discussions and answering questions. I feel inspired by them, and more than a little sad to be leaving them (though I’ll be back and see them again near the end of the course). To find out more about the course (including photos), check out the TReND blog.

Sadiq, our host at Kampala International University, took us for a beautiful drive today to show us the surroundings of Ishaka. Up to this point, we had mainly seen the lab and our hotel rooms, and it was great to see and find out more about Ishaka. We went past the tea plantation that produces the excellent local Igara tea I’ve been drinking every day, and as everywhere, much matoke (green cooking bananas that grow on the palm trees). We drove through a number of different villages too – the usual chaos of shops, boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers, and people wandering around everywhere, sometimes with impressively loaded up bicycles. There are also many children running around everywhere – in Uganda it is common to have large families (an average 6-7 children).

After the beautiful scenic drive, we reached our destination, and we were in for a real treat – Sadiq took us to a lodge on a cliff overlooking the savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Absolutely stunning sunset view – we all kept expecting music from the Lion King to start up. The photos don’t really do it justice. We had beer and some great grilled fish overlooking the spectacular view, and we even managed to spot some elephants in the distance (our first ones of the trip – though I’ve been told you can sometimes randomly see them by the side of the road!). Sadiq is a wonderful and knowledgeable guide, so we also had the pleasure of finding out more about the university, and about Uganda and its people. All in all a beautiful evening.

Tomorrow I leave Ishaka (and my laptop and internet access), so won’t be posting for a while. However, this is where the photography part of my trip really starts. I’m very excited about seeing more Uganda nature, wildlife, and hopefully even coming face to face with mountain gorillas – a part of the trip I’ve been looking forward to for months. For now though, my mind is full of everything I’ve seen and learnt over the past week, and I have no doubt that I’ll be missing my students!


Uganda – a beginning


I have been in Uganda for less than a few days, and I am already falling in love with the country, and with our project here. Today I joined in the wonderfully satisfying job of putting together a large quantity of donated lab equipment to complement what had already been gathered in previous years. Who knew that putting together microscopes and playing with hardware could be so satisfying. The course starts tomorrow, so this week’s updates will likely be lab photos.

The country itself is both very beautiful and very chaotic. Maybe the wrong choice of destination for the chronically punctual, but if you are able to relax and just go with the flow of things, it’s a really wonderful place. The landscape is a mixture of lush greenery, rolling hills and clay-colored earth, while in the cities, the first thing you notice is indescribable traffic (seriously), people selling things on the street (beds, sofas and chickens are particularly popular choices), and a range of creative transport solutions. Personally, the boda-bodas (motorbike taxis) absolutely terrify me, while I much admire people’s ability to stack extraordinary quantities of items onto bicycles.

I look forward to exploring and learning more in the days to come.


A trip to the zoo

As some of you might already know (since I’ve been talking about it constantly for the last 3 months), in 2 weeks I’ll be off to Uganda with TReND, a higher education charity running university level neuroscience courses. I’m doing a week of teaching, followed by some quality time with lions, elephants and gorillas, which I’m incredibly excited about.

Mountain gorillas are critically endangered (here’s some WWF info), and one of the things helping keep them alive is the money that comes from tourist trekking licences. Believe it or not, there are only around ¬†800 of them left. That’s another thing I’ve been trying to process recently – how many species have gone extinct recently, and how many are so close to extinction. A world without mountain gorillas and Sumatran tigers (only 300 left) would be a sad place indeed. Though at least in the case of mountain gorillas, things are slightly, hesitantly, looking up – due to major conservation efforts, their numbers have recently been increasing for the first time in years.

I feel very privileged to hopefully be saying hello to them. And as well as going walking lots, and climbing some hills recently in preparation, I thought it would be good to have an animal photography warm-up before I went. So it was in the name of this that me and some lovely friends went to London Zoo.

This is the first time I’ve been in years, and I really enjoyed the visit. It’s extremely focused on conservation – a percentage of the ticket money gets donated to a conservation charity, you encounter conservation games and information sheets everywhere you go, and we came across staff engaging visitors in a responsible consumerism campaign focused on sustainable palm oil. All around very informative, and very much matching my current headspace.

I was also pleasantly surprised about how close you could get to some of the animals. The rainforest and some of the monkey sections in particular are very open, with the animals running and jumping around where they please, and staff on hand to keep visitors from interacting with the animals directly. It was really a wonderful experience.

But without further ado, here are some animal pictures :)


A weekend of kittens

As a photographer, sometimes you get some pretty sweet deals. I certainly felt like I landed a prize when I started volunteering as a cat photographer at the Blue Cross Cambridge rescue centre. You know those cat cafes that are ¬†opening up in places? Guys, don’t go to a cat cafe, start volunteering in a shelter – infinite kitty supply, for free, and bonus points for doing something fun and rewarding.

Anyway, this week was particularly fun, because as well as the very lovely cats, there were also 12 very energetic kittens around! They’re so cute and fluffy and tiny, I don’t expect they’ll stay in the shelter for very long at all. The little confused black one was my favourite :)


New website!

Hello world!

After many years of meaning to make one, I finally have a photography website, courtesy of Mike Pokrajac :) Any photographers in need of a web dev, do give me a shout – he can do all sorts of fancy things. For my part, I look forward to having somewhere to post photography updates!

For now,

Jelena